Cocktail Hour at Madame Fromage

Flaming a Peel

If things on the blog seem a little quiet, it’s because I’ve been busy making Manhattans. And Millionaires. And Stratospheres. I haven’t known quite how to tell you this: my brother, André Darlington, and I are writing a cocktail book. The contract is signed, the deadline looms (November 1)! My refrigerator is all simple syrup and citrus.

Luckily, I adore cocktails. This new project came about a bit unexpectedly — a riff on a different proposal Andre and I submitted together, one that attempted to marry cheese and spirits. Perhaps we are the only two beings who love an Old Fashioned and a wedge of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. All this to say: I flew to Chicago for a crash course in mixology earlier this summer, and now my life is all about finding the perfect orgeat.

Don’t think cheese has left my life.

L'Espalier cheese board

When my friend Cristin arrived on my stoop last weekend carrying a trousseau of fine cheese, I simply invited in the rabble and began to flame peels.

Cristin’s selection of hard cheeses paired perfectly with a Sunday afternoon of imbibing. Liquor and hard hunks pair naturally, but we all knew that. Big thanks to Fromager Louis Risoli of L’Espalier in Boston for making these selections. Most of the cheeses on our L’Espalier board were new to me, except for Rupert, a handsome heavy from Consider Bardwell.

L'Espalier NotesL'Espalier Cheese Board on Table

What a joy to sample Arpeggio, a farmstead fudgey wudgey from Hardwick, Mass.

It had one of those rinds that looks like a crinoline skirt — gently whiffy, with a tender paste that tasted like chive mousse.

Turns out, True Blue — a savory blue from Woodcock Farm in Weston, Vermont — pairs especially well with a Toronto cocktail, a heady mix of rye and Fernet Branca. This was a revelation for my friend Andrew, the ultimate Fernet head. (He’s the serious character on the far left with the Whitman-esque beard.)

Cheese and Cocktail Tasters

Come December, I envision bitter cocktails and Stilton sloshed and crumbled all over the kitchen floor. Who doesn’t want to have a blue cheese and Amaro party? I think it could work. I feel a Sherry Cobbler coming on as a luxe opener.

Doesn’t that sound smashing?

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So, now you know how I’ve been spending my time. I’m not ignoring my dairy predilection, just expanding my horizon one shot at a time.

About the Book

Look for Cocktail Hour: A Classic and Modern Guide to Everyday Drinking in fall 2015 (Running Press). It will be loaded with pairing suggestions and tasting notes for cocktails that have shaped eras, from pre-Prohibition classics to the sultriest sippers of today.

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How I Met Melville

Melville and Crackers

In the summer, I am always on the lookout for mild, soft cheeses to eat with fresh herbs and crackers. Something about that combination sings in my ear. It’s a 4 o’clock thing. I get noshy. I start dreaming of cocktail hour. Mentally, of course, I prepare a cheese plate.

And that’s how I met Melville.

Melville is mozzarella’s second cousin once removed, the one you see in family photos wearing a white linen suit when everyone else is wearing dirty jeans. He’s a square block with a slightly pleated surface and a very…and I mean verrrry…smooth demeanor.

If Melville could be anything other than a cheese, he would be silken tofu. Because he loves silk. All fabrics really, as long as they are high quality. Melville is made from from fresh Connecticut milk, aged a total of 7 days, and has been created in the style of Northern Italian Stracchino — a pliable, adaptable, impossibly fresh style of cheese that is beloved for melting.

You know how mozzarella is thready? Well, Melville is custardy.

It’s basically panna cotta in cheese form.

Purr. I have lots to say about this summer lover.

Melville Hero Shot

Who, Pray, Is the Father of Melville?

Hold your hairnet on because this is a crazy story: Melville is made in a shipping container — or what’s called a “cheese pod” — in Mystic, Connecticut. In fact, I heard a Tweet about these mobile cheese-making units long before I met Melville.

Melville’s maker, Brian Civitello, developed his cheese pod concept as a way to help start-up cheesemakers launch their business without having to invest in infrastructure. Genius, right?

Brian hatched the idea after working with cheesemakers in Italy and around the U.S. He and his partner, Jason Sobocinski, now create make-to-order cheese pods. (If you fancy yourself becoming a gypsy cheesemaker — like some of the gypsy brewers who have gained attention — well, you know who to call. Or Tweet: @MysticCheeseCo.)

Melville, from Mystic Cheese Co., is the first cheese Brian made in his cheese pod.

Melville II

Should English Majors Eat Melville?

Melville is named in honor of Connecticut’s history of whaling and, of course, the greatest literary mammal of all: Moby Dick. If you bring a bit of Melville to English class, you should demand extra credit. You can point out the connection to Herman Melville’s giant creature of the sea and Melville’s damp, “blubbery” texture. “Blubbery” is Brian’s term — his press releases are full of original language, a welcome departure from “creamy” and “spreadable.”

For more extra credit, you could mention that Brian’s entire line of cheeses relies on books for inspiration. Even the label is drawn by a children’s book author named Queenie.

Melivllepackaging

This fall, Brian plans to release Frost.

Formal poets everywhere will have a dairy-case diehard to studiously enjoy. I expect that, once it takes off, Frost will supplant rubbery supermarket Brie at English department gatherings everywhere. I don’t mind leading the cause.

Wondering What To Cook with Melville?

Since Melville arrived by mail (it was sent to me as a sample), I’ve been inspired to play with it in several dishes. Its milky sweetness takes well to fresh herbs or to accenting other dishes.

I’ve been on a kick of making balance bowls recently and taking them on picnics. Here, I used Melville almost like queso fresco. The fresh, clean taste of the milk works well with fresh veggies, roasted sweet potatoes, and black beans.

Balance Bowls 2Balance Bowl

One cool evening, I got an itch to cook some farro, and so I made a one-pot meal from Smitten Kitchen, using Melville in place of mozzarella — it melted like a champ. I was tempted to call my local pizza fiend and sneak Melville onto a wood-fired pie. But I didn’t have the willpower not to eat the last blubbery bit of it all by myself.

Faro and Melville

My favorite way to eat Melville? Alone, with a sprinkling of chives. I love how Brian has been inspired by a traditional Italian style of cheese to create a uniquely local beast that represents his Connecticut roots. I haven’t seen a cheese quite like it anywhere.

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To read more about Melville: check out the posts by Formaggio Kitchen and by Cheese Notes.

To find Melville: Seacrest Foods distributes Melville across New England and New York. Saxelby Cheesemongers handles Melville in NYC. It’s also available at Whole Foods in all 35 North Atlantic Division stores.

 

Wisconsin Dreamer’s Cheese Board

WI Cheese Board

Last week, I worked on designing a Wisconsin cheese board for Di Bruno Bros. as part of the store’s new heartland promotion. I selected four favorites from my home state — no easy task — and they’re now available online as the Dairy Dreamer’s Cheese Wisconsin Cheese Board.

I’m so proud of this collaboration! I’ve lived in Philadelphia for almost ten years now, and this is the first time I’ve seen a giant selection of Wisconsin cheeses on the East Coast. Di Bruno Bros. recently began carrying 40 cheeses from Wisconsin after the company’s team leaders took a trip to the Midwest. They must have been treated to a lot of good beer. And cheese. Of course.

This board includes…

Marieke Gouda with Fenugreek  – A young Gouda with beautiful brown butter notes, flecked with nutty tasting fenugreek seeds. Wonderful with apricots and almonds.

Little Darling – Rustic and bright with a horseradish-y finish, this cheese is Wisconsin’s take on a clothbound Cheddar. It loves honey, mustard, pickles, and a pint of Fuller’s ESB.

Billy Blue – An unusual goat blue — creamy and piquant. Great with honey, figs, or cherry preserves. I love to serve this with dark chocolate and dates. It was also the first cheese I ever wrote about on my blog.

Widmer’s Cheddar – Buttery, biscuit-crumbly, and sharp! Break out the pretzels and beer.

You can read more about these cheeses on my recent post for the Di Bruno blog. Here’s hoping you enjoy this special assortment! It showcases Wisconsin’s wide range of cheeses and its fantastic community of makers.

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Live Cultures: The Video

Bread collage

Pssst…hello, dahhhlink. Yes, it’s been a little quiet here on Madame Fromage. Call it a summer of suitcases. A summer of digital digressions. First, there was Italy, then Wisconsin. And so I come to you with remembrances.

In June and July, my good friend Aimée Knight and I led a digital storytelling workshop in Puglia for 24 cheese-loving dreamers. We called the workshop Live Cultures and set off to learn about living foods through the lenses of our cameras. With our marvelous host and collaborator, Tonio Creanza, we stayed at a masseria near Altamura, made mozzarella and Pecorino by hand, dined in fields and star-lit courtyards, rose early to bake crusty bread in the town oven, and danced to tambourines.

Thanks to Aimee, we have a glimpse into the tastes, sounds, and sights from our odyssey!

Love what you see? Learn about upcoming workshops in Puglia at Messors.com.

 

Champion Cheesemonger Emily Acosta

Emily Acosta

Here’s a telling sign about the popularity of cheese in America: cheesemongering has become an Olympic sport. Well, almost. Every summer, the folks who work behind cheese counters gather for The Cheesemonger Invitational. It’s where muscle meets Manchego. For one grueling evening, they compete for the title of champion cheesemonger.

To win, a monger must break down wheels into perfect hunks, prepare a perfect pairing for the judges, and name six mystery bites in a blind tasting — among other challenges. This year’s winner, Emily Acosta, is the first dame to make dairy case history. Here’s what she says about training, guava paste, and the craft cheesemaker who inspires her most…

 

When you were a kid, did you ever think you’d grow up to be a Master Cheesemonger?

Even as an adult, I had no idea I’d grow up to be a Master Cheesemonger! Honestly, when I was a kid I used to think Velveeta was fancy cheese because my mom would only buy it for special occasions.  My family is from Cuba, and somehow Velveeta was quintessentially American, and I guess therefore fancy and modern.  I didn’t have a clue a whole world of cheese existed beyond shredded low moisture mozzarella and Kraft singles.

I’ve loved all things dairy since I can remember, but I discovered my passion for cheese (real cheese!) after taking cheese classes at Whole Foods, the Astor Center, and Murray’s Cheese here in New York.  The more I tasted and learned, the more I needed to taste and learn.  It’s hard to go back once you’ve eaten foods of a certain quality, tradition, and general deliciousness.  Eventually, I realized that I needed to share my passion and newfound knowledge with as many people as possible, so I quit my office job to become a cheesemonger fulltime!

 

How did you come to work at Eataly, one of the greatest cheese counters in New York?!

I had been a monger at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in New York and left that job to be a bookkeeper.  It became clear pretty quickly that I had made a huge mistake: I missed the cheese and thrill of educating customers about it.  I found my way to Eataly through a friend who worked there as a monger and decided to take the job while finishing my last semester in the Food Studies Master’s Program at NYU.  I’m so grateful I did since I’m still here almost two years later!

 

What kind of training did you undertake to prepare for the Cheesemonger Invitational?

Acosta

I didn’t train too much leading up to the competition.  Given the volume of customers at Eataly, I’ve learned how to cut and wrap cheese very quickly and precisely.  Plus, I’m always reading about cheese and tasting cheese anyway, so I was pretty well prepared.  I did make my coworkers try several iterations of my perfect bite leading up to the competition, which eventually became St. Pete’s Blue cheese on top of a guava pastry with turrón and a fresh slice of Granny Smith Apple.

 

What was your proudest moment of the competition?

I was really proud of how I did on the blind-tasting portion of the competition, perhaps because it was the least familiar of the events in the competition.  I’m used to selling cheese, cutting cheese, answering tough questions about cheese, etc., but tasting a small bit of cheese and identifying whether its pasteurized, where it comes from, what cheese its most similar to – that’s a real challenge!  It’s a testament to how much cheese I actually eat that I was able to do well!

 

What was the most unnerving moment of the competition?

For the final round, we were told to make a cheese sign and be ready to introduce ourselves through the cheese we had selected.  I had very quickly written lyrics to the tune of “Let It Go” about my favorite cheese of the moment, Cinerino, just in case I made it to the final rounds.  I hadn’t really thought about how terrifying it would actually be to sing it in front of a warehouse full of strangers, cheese peers, and cheese idols.  I love to sing and sing behind the counter all day long, but I’m absolutely terrified of singing in front of people I don’t know.  When I realized I had no other plan but to present my a capella cheese song, I almost passed out!

 

Can you describe one or two of your favorite cheese pairings? 

I used guava in my perfect bite because in real life, I eat guava and cheese all the time.  I love tropical fruits with cheese!  I could probably live on guava paste and Comté for the rest of my life.  Or grilled bananas and Comté… or dulce de papaya and Comté…

Outside of the cheese world, what is your super power or hidden talent?

My two passions in life are cheese and Excel spreadsheets.  I love spreadsheets so much. It’s super nerdy.

If there were a Cheesmaker Invitational, is there a craft producer you’d pull into the spotlight?

Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery makes one of my favorite cheeses, Ouleout.  I recently went up to Walton, NY, to make cheese with him for a day. He’s not only an incredibly talented cheesemaker (Ouleout with slices of apple – amazing) but a beautiful person, too.  It’s an honor to sell his cheeses at Eataly.

Emily Acosta II

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As the winner of this year’s CMI championship, Acosta wins a free trip to England with Cheese Journeys. Big congrats, Emily!